Pockets of Ignominy

Pockets of Ignominy

By Carly Schwarz

There were many men, probably as many years she’d lived (twenty-eight), but Naomi couldn’t be sure. When she was younger she’d kept track of the men she’d conquered, like the countries she’d traveled to in order to seem cultured: Japan, England, Italy, and even Iran. She would tell her mother about these men—they talked of everything—and she would never forget her mother saying, “Why would you count them? It’s so depressing! If I counted, there would probably be a hundred, ha. And when you’re my age, you’ll probably say the same thing!” Old people were always claiming this, as if there were a universal way of thinking once you reached a certain age. Her mother laughed at things that weren’t funny, and she thought it was probably just to comfort herself and smooth over shame. She did this too, laughed when nervous or ashamed. She never thought she would end up like her mother. Back then, there were only a few countries that had been seen, felt, and fully explored by her. Back then, there was only a pocket-sized amount of ignominy, and she kept it hidden, tucked inside the small folds of her brain.

Years later, she lay there on her side, her arms and hands inching across the miles of the king-sized bed where he lay, fast asleep, like men always did when given a bed and a fluffy pillow. Naomi wondered how a man’s genetic makeup altered from hers, if that ability to lay their heads down and sleep like dogs after an argument—while she lay with eyes wide open, staring into the darkness that was her room—was biologically ingrained. Or was it that men didn’t care as much as women, didn’t think as much as women—could it really be as simple as people say? And if so, why did this thought keep her up so many nights? Maybe she was the anomaly, and the answer to this conundrum was that she needed to be further medicated, or institutionalized.

 He was a final year medical student and she thought that the idea of being a doctor was beginning to blow his head up to the size of one of those balloons you see outside of car lots, the ones with the flags descending down the strings. Before he fell asleep, they had struck up an argument about some insignificant matter. One of those fights one causes out of boredom or a need for attention. Naomi was well aware of her many insecurities, and it was hard for her to believe that someone so together was interested in her. In fact, she didn’t believe it at all. At any second, she thought, he would be gone—another ignominy folded inside of that pocket in her brain.

What had stuck with her was his response. He’d said she’d given him a headache. It seemed as though he expected perfection from her—that time with her should always be relaxing, or easy—and it made her feel used in some strange way. They had never fought before; she always tried to be her best self around him. When he denied her sex that night, she felt as if she had been deflated—all of her happiness contracting and then slipping out of her body into the microfiber mattress where it was absorbed and captured. They talked about student loans, about how his father had paid his way through school; he was debt free. This was hard for her to digest—the thought that someone could be so blindly lucky dug into her skin. She knew it would never be the case for her.

She was restless. Like when she used to get restless leg syndrome as a child, and her feet couldn’t stop moving, rubbing together all night long until morning sun spilled into the room. Sleep was not gracing her with its presence tonight, so she slithered off the bed like a snake, through the crack of the door, to the kitchen. She took a cigarette and a lighter from where she kept them hidden in the cabinet above the stove, and slipped out the front door—like she did every time Brooks came over. He didn’t know about her bad habits, yet another reason they wouldn’t last. Although Naomi believed that everyone should have their secrets, hers were bubbling to the surface, and she feared they would burst out at any given moment.

Outside, she was the only person walking down the streetlamp-lit sidewalk. The stems of the streetlamps were black, blending into the night so that the bulbs looked like floating Chinese lanterns hovering in the air. They gave her a tinge of hope in this daunting evening, that there was beauty around her even if she didn’t feel it in the confined space of her room. It was after 3:00 a.m. on a Thursday. She had work the next day but she did not care.

She walked past the huge oaks in her neighborhood, the moss hung over the branches in thick, spiraling clusters, like her hair falling in tight, brown ringlets. People always loved that about her, her hair, and it was the one thing she hated most about herself. Naomi was attractive, at least she was intuited she was by the way men looked at her. She had never looked at herself as conventionally pretty. She had small, blue hooded eyes that she thought made her look much older than she was. Her frame was small, but not dainty or graceful, she was clumsy and tactless; people were always calling her a “hot mess,” or just a mess in general.

 The cigarette had given her a slight buzz. She felt the ground become cloud-like and found it hard to climb up the three flights of stairs to her apartment. Each step felt as if it would fall from under her, or suck her in. Inside the house, she followed her usual routine—washed her mouth out, sprayed her clothes, and scrubbed her hands until the scent of smoke was long gone—then made her way back through the crack in the door that was just wide enough to allow her slender body to slip through.

 She sank her nose into the pillow he had been hugging earlier in his sleep. It smelled like his deodorant and body spray—sweet and masculine. She could lay there buried in his scent for eternity. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the room, and she could see the shadows of his sculpted face. Brooks was like no man she had ever met. Though sometimes, when she thought this—which she often did—she also thought about how she must have felt like this before. It had only been a month since she’d been seeing Brooks, and Naomi knew that every man seemed special at first. He was different from her usual type though—affluent, but humble, and so handsome. She thought he was perfect, a Brad Pitt in his prime. And what really surprised her was that he was goofy. He loved to make her watch movies like Baby’s Day Out and Good Burger, and the only music he listened to was from the 80’s. She thought he must be sad somewhere inside too, constantly needing to be brought back to his childhood through music and TV.

 Her body turned to him, her pelvis thrusting of its own volition, legs trembling a bit—or throbbing—as if her body had taken control of her; the atoms of it pulling her towards his warmth at edge of the bed. It was radiating, his heat, and she could feel the possibility of it mixing with hers—bonding like two elements. He didn’t want her. He was sleeping. But she felt, as her hand lay across his stomach, beneath his, that there was a fine line being drawn. That tonight things would end.

The risk of reaching below the waist was too big. She sat there for a moment. Her meager hand felt undeserving under the weight of his prodigious palm. She wished she could take back what she’d said earlier. Or that he, or any man, would care enough about her to squeeze her hand, grope her hips that were turned in need, and say that she was enough, enough to deal with the annoyance that was part of who she was.

She wondered why her body had always betrayed her mind. Why was her hand still there? Why didn’t she make him leave, like she wished he would earlier? She couldn’t. She was weak and ravenous for something, even if that something was temporary, a momentary escalation of nerve impulses joining in harmony to bring her to a climactic state. That momentary feeling of attachment, of bonding with another being—she needed it. She knew it wouldn’t last; it never did. In the gray light of dusk, he’d be pulling on his navy scrubs—like so many times before—blending into the blue walls of her bedroom like the rest of them, slipping out of the door with an empty gesture of reassurance. She knew this. She’d known this since they’d met. But she just couldn’t stop; she couldn’t stop the momentary satisfaction of him.

In that moment, when his body didn’t stir, when he didn’t move her hand over his boxers, she knew that this shard of happiness was up. The chance wasn’t worth taking, and she slowly, with each fingertip still lingering with hope, removed her hand from the muscles of his stomach and curled into herself, taking the small yellow pill she had previously laid on her nightstand. She hoped that sleep would take her into its arms, hold her for the woman she was—beautiful and sad. And it did.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *